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How Brighton became a Premier League powerhouse under De Zerbi

Brighton fans have a lot to celebrate these days. The Seagulls are flying high in the Premier League, with a chance to qualify for Europe and a date with Manchester United at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals. They have become a formidable team at the highest level, thanks to their smart use of data analysis and their talented players and coach.

Roberto De Zerbi took over from Graham Potter in September and has implemented an adventurous, possession-oriented style of play that has paid off. “He’s a manager who wants to have the ball all the time,” says Tottenham midfielder Sandro, who worked with De Zerbi at Benevento.

“A very intelligent and very particular manager who thinks a lot about the game. He helps players and gives them the details they need to hurt the opponent.” De Zerbi is not afraid of taking risks. He joined Benevento, a small club from Campania, in the south-west of Italy, in 2017 when they were already doomed to relegation from Serie A after losing their first nine games and scoring only once.

But he did not give up and inspired his team to play with courage and intensity. Sandro was one of several new signings in January, arriving on loan from Turkish side Antalyaspor.

“De Zerbi chose some players to help the team get better when Benevento were struggling a lot, and I was one of them. I had no idea that I would encounter one of the best coaches I ever had. It was incredible because he taught me so much, and I had a lot of fun playing for him. I witnessed great things,” Sando says.

“I was already a seasoned player when I got there, and I had worked with many coaches. He made me go to games with passion, like ‘what’s he going to show us today? What are we going to achieve?’ You have to be skilled to do that. I wanted more. I wanted to play for him.”

Sandro uses the same word several times when asked what qualities you need to play for De Zerbi: “heart’”

“The players need to give their all. They need to spill blood on the pitch. He doesn’t like players who are just content to be there.”

Benevento faced a lot of difficulties – they lost 20 out of De Zerbi’s 29 games as manager – but he never let the atmosphere in the locker room become hopeless. With his contagious energy, he motivated his players to keep trying until the last minute, even after their destiny had been decided.”

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